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Mailbag: Changing from the polluting norm

June 16, 2010

It amazes me when I hear a few residents of Burbank whine about how they do not want to adopt change in their city ("Remove bike lanes from busy streets," June 12) because they don't want to be like other cities and like things the way they are.

Things are not great the way they are, though, and other cities and towns have shown how adopting a few well-thought changes can increase quality of life, while keeping things as they are can hurt us — socially, financially and environmentally.

Burbank has one of the worst air-quality ratings in the country, exacerbated by large parking lots devoid of trees , along with black roofing, asphalt paving, and streetscape missing tree cover. Simple fixes could reduce our daytime temperatures by a few crucial degrees, and nighttime temperatures by as much as 20 degrees. The measures would reduce smog, lower utility bills and improve our quality of life, without imposing restrictive regulations.

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As more and more people move into urban areas, population density adds cars to roads. The simplest, and our current, response is to widen streets, add more cars to the roads, increase pollution, traffic, accidents and reduce exercise. A simple fix is rarely the best fix, as many other cities have demonstrated, to their cost. But, hey, we don't want to observe or even discuss what other cities have done, right or wrong, because it is apparently preferable to exist in a vacuum of ignorance than to evaluate urban programming elsewhere in an effort to adopt best practices here.

The recent Verdugo Avenue re-striping — which inserted a center turning lane, added some additional street parking and introduced some very welcome bike lanes — was warmly welcomed by residents along Verdugo, as they saw an almost immediate calming of previously dangerous traffic. School students at John Burroughs High School are now able to commute on their bikes with greater protection, and families are able to cross Verdugo in safety on their way to and from the library.

There are no documented community benefits to increasing vehicular traffic on city streets, but there are proven gains to traffic calming, complete streets, public transportation, bicycle networks and pedestrian-friendly streetscapes: Stores get more customer traffic, property values go up dramatically, accidents go down, crime levels drop, and people tend to be nicer to one another.

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